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Compromises can help No Child act

Nevada Appeal editorial board

The Bush administration has made another good decision on No Child Left Behind requirements by pushing back the deadline for certifying “highly qualified” teachers in some instances.

It’s another example of reality intruding on the idealized vision of No Child Left Behind and the difficulty of imposing a one-size-fits-all policy from Washington, D.C.

Few would argue the desire for “highly qualified” teachers. Under the rules, they need to hold at least a bachelor’s degree, state certification and proven knowledge of the subjects they teach. What could be wrong with that?

The problem is that teachers often teach several subjects, or the classes to which they are assigned vary from year to year depending on the school’s particular level of staffing. As a result, teachers may be teaching a subject in which they minored in college, rather than the field on their degree.

So they’ll need to go back to school to meet the qualifications – again, not an unreasonable expectation. But that’s going to cost money – for the teachers and for the school districts – and would certainly exacerbate teacher shortages in some places, such as rural Nevada, where they are needed most.

At some point, the burden of No Child Left Behind requirements begins to outweigh the benefit.

Dealing with the practical ramifications of those requirements isn’t a sign the Bush administration and Education Department are lowering their standards. It’s simply a recognition that not all the effects of the act were thought through.

Like the administration’s earlier acknowledgment that severely learning-disabled children can’t be measured on the same scale as all other students, the leeway given to teacher qualifications is a step toward compromise.

We’ll still have problems with No Child Left Behind, both philosophical and practical, but such compromises reaffirm a goal to improve public schools – and not, as the harshest critics charge, to dismantle them.